Anencephaly or Anencephalic Baby: Causes, Symptoms, Survival Rate, Treatment, Epidemiology, Prevention

Anencephaly can be defined as a serious congenital defect in which the brain and the skull of the new born are incompletely developed. This happens due to the presence of neural tube defect in which the neural tube does not close completely thereby leaving behind the absence or incomplete presence of forebrain and the cerebrum as well as the absence of skull for the remaining parts of the brain.

Neural tube defects are birth defects related to brain and spinal cord that occur during the first month of the pregnancy. In the first month of pregnancy, the neural tube develops and closes completely. This helps in the formation of the brain and the spinal cord of the baby. However, in some cases the neural tube may either not develop properly or may not close completely, thus leading to the neural tube defects. The neural tube defects are namely of two types which are spinal bifida which is a spine related defect and anencephaly which is a brain related defect.

In case of anencephaly or anencephalic baby, the brain of the child does not possess skull, cranium, meninges, brain hemisphere and cerebellum. The defect occurs in the initial phase of pregnancy during third to fourth week and hinders the survival of the newborns. Anencephaly is a fatal condition; in cases where the anencephalic baby survives, the life expectancy is usually between few hours to few days.

Symptoms of Anencephaly or an Anencephalic Baby

The common signs and symptoms that mark the presence of anencephaly or an anencephalic baby are:

  • Lack of skull in the rear portion of the head.
  • Presence of a cleft palate.
  • Abnormalities in heart.
  • Absence of consciousness due to absence of cerebrum.
  • Absence of bones in the front and sides of head.

Epidemiology of Anencephaly or Anencephalic Baby

The occurrence of anencephaly or anencephalic baby is approximately one in five thousand births. Among these, the birth of females is found to be more prominent than males. The male fetuses usually end in miscarriage, still birth, and abortions.

Prognosis & Survival Rate in Anencephaly or an Anencephalic Baby

The outlook for anencephaly or anencephalic baby is especially poor due to seventy to seventy five percent cases is still births. For the remaining twenty five to thirty percent cases that survive, death is inevitable thus none survives more than a few days. A large amount of anencephalic fetuses are aborted spontaneously due to severe brain malformations and no chances for survival.

What are the Causes of Anencephaly or Having an Anencephalic Baby?

The common causes behind anencephaly or anencephalic baby are:

  • Deficiency of Folic Acid occurring due to improper and poor nutrition, regular alcohol consumption, consistent smoking, oral contraceptives and psoriasis.
  • Diabetes that has been left undiagnosed.
  • Excess of Vitamin A in the mother’s body.
  • Fever greater than 102 degree Fahrenheit for over five hours.
  • Administration of anticonvulsant medications.
  • Genetic history, though in rare cases.

Diagnosis of Anencephaly or Anencephalic Baby

Diagnosis of anencephaly is commonly done by conducting prenatal tests which are conducted between fourteenth to eighteenth weeks of pregnancy. These tests include:

  • Ultrasound to Detect Anencephaly: It is an imaging technique that utilizes high frequency sound waves emitted by a transducer to generate images of the developing fetus with the help of computers. The sonogram or the images obtained show the anencephaly related abnormalities.
  • Blood Tests for Diagnosing Anencephaly: These tests are conducted to check for the elevated levels of Alpha-fetoprotein which is synthesized by the immature liver cells present in the fetus. The elevated levels indicate towards the presence of anencephaly.
  • Fetal MRI to Diagnose an Anencephalic Baby: This test uses magnetic field in coherence with the computers to generate the image of the developing fetus. These images can be checked for the presence of the anencephalic baby. This test unlike the others can be conducted during any phase of the pregnancy.
  • Amniocentesis to Identify Anencephaly: This test is conducted to check for the elevated levels of Alpha-fetoprotein and Acetylcholinerase in the amniotic fluid. This test is done by inserting a long needle into the amniotic sac and extracts a small amount of fluid. The fluid obtained is then tested for Alpha-fetoprotein and Acetylcholinerase; if the levels are high then anencephaly may be present.

Is there any Treatment for Anencephaly or an Anencephalic Baby?

There is no available treatment of anencephaly or anencephalic baby due to inevitability of the death of the infants suffering from the condition. Grief counseling and care is provided to the family, especially the mother to cope with the trauma of the lost child.

How to Prevent Anencephaly or Having an Anencephalic Baby?

The prevention measures for anencephaly include right nutrition with sufficient levels of folic acid intake. The body of the mother should receive proper nutrition before as well as during pregnancy. The optimal dosage of folic acid for expecting mothers is 400 micrograms per day which cannot be furnished by food alone. The diet should include a combination of folic acid supplements and folic acid rich foods like green leafy vegetables, oranges and beans. In cases, the expecting mother has a case of previous neural defect pregnancy then 4 milligram dosage of folic acid can be taken through the entire first trimester to prevent the occurrence of the neural tube defect in the current pregnancy.


Anencephaly or anencephalic baby is the incomplete development of the brain and skull due to the abnormal development of neural tube during the first trimester of the pregnancy. The neural tube is expected to fold and close post the third or fourth week of pregnancy; instead it closes abnormally or does not close at all thereby causing neural tube defect. The infants born with anencephaly usually do not possess the skull, forebrain, cerebral hemispheres and cerebellum leaving the neural tissues exposed. The reflex actions are present like breathing, touching and sensation towards sound but the thinking, coordination and consciousness is absent. The condition does allow the infants to survive, in case they do, then the period of survival may be from hours to days. In extremely rare cases, it could go up to a year. Anencephaly can be diagnosed through prenatal tests but no treatments are available to treat the condition due to the death of the infant. However, preventive measures can be taken by the expecting mothers to prevent anencephaly on time.

  • Leave Comments